Friday, February 2, 2024

2024 Sun Half Marathon Race Recap - Santa Clara, UT

Waiting for the race to start

Official Time: 1:53:31
Placement: 3rd in the 50-54 age division, 52nd overall
Results:  Here
Race WebsiteHere (race date 1/27/2024)
Weather: Mid 30's no wind at the start, finish in the mid to upper 40's
Garmin Dump: Here
Previous Years: [2020]

Mile TimeComments
18:43Gentle downhill start
38:43Being consistent and daring to go a little faster
69:10First real hill.  Still holding a decent pace.
78:24Fast downhill here -- 150 feet of decline
88:52A bit of a climb here -- a short but steep hill.
98:32Time to step it up.  
108:17Starting to run fast.
119:24Long, grinding hill
128:21Mostly flat -- time to finish strong
137:56Awesome final mile. 90 feet of decline and the smell of the finish waiting for me
Total Miles: 13.13 1:53:27

Abandoned structure along the course.


So 2 weeks prior to this race I ran the 2024 Virgin River Half Marathon and astounded myself with an amazing time of 1:54:15.  I felt like I could've run the course faster despite having a fairly lackluster lead up to the race.  

Running the Virgin River Half Marathon

After the buzz of the race began to where off, I began to question myself -- was it a fluke or was my fitness really where I hoped it would be?

I had a bit of race fever and buoyed with the thought of being to run faster than I thought I began to look for another race.  Given that the Salt Lake area is pretty devoid of races, particularly half marathons in the winter, I wasn't given much of a choice locally.  I did spy the Sun Half Marathon in St George.  It seemed to fit the bill -- a fast course, warmer weather, a beautiful area, and I had run it before in 2020.

I did some research and some soul searching.  Did I really want to race again?  Make the four hour drive?  I found a decently priced hotel, made sure it was within the budget and ponied up for the last minute race entry (about $85).  I was set for another, hopefully, epic weekend!

Waiting for the race to start.

The Race

The race hasn't changed much since I did it pre-Covid.  My how the world has changed in the last 4 years.  I remember the course being mostly downhill, but not crazy downhill.  My Garmin indicates that I ran about 900 feet of downhill, but to keep things honest, there was about 425 of uphill.  

Anticipation before the start

I had picked up my bib the night before at the St George Running Center and I arrived at Archie Gubler Park at 6:30 AM to jump on a 7:00 AM bus.  There was plenty of parking and I could chill in my car for a bit before loading on to the bus for the 20 minute (or so) ride to the start.

I had brought a fair amount of clothing.  I knew that the starting area wasn't going to have much for amenities and there is nothing worse than waiting for a race to start and freezing.  I was quite comfortable though and I wound up making small talk with people and seeing familiar faces.

Run4Fun Group from FB

In 2020 the course came up a bit long on my Garmin (13.30).  This year, we started close to a quarter mile closer to the finish than the previous year.  I knew that we were going to have an accurate 13.10 miles (the mile markers also were spot on).

Taking care of pre-race nerves

A few minutes before the race, I took off all of my warmer gear and was ready to race in the slightly cool air:  shorts, a single t-shirt, and thin gloves.  I was perfectly attired for the race -- although I'd probably recommend sunglasses.

The race started promptly at 8:30 and we were off running down a lightly traveled canyon just a mile or so south of Gunlock Reservoir.

I stuck with the 2-hour pacer for the first mile or two.  That had been my strategy 2 weeks ago at the Virgin River race.  But I knew I could run faster and while the 2-hour pacer was going a little faster than 2 hours (on account of the decline) I wound up pulling ahead.  Part of me was wondering if I was making a mistake -- was I pushing too quickly?

I don't normally pay attention to my heart rate on a race (it's always too high) but my breathing felt good and I didn't feel like I was straining in the slightest.  My pace was good and not crazy.

The first few miles flew by and memories of the course came back from 2020.  It was so peaceful and the sunlight was playing off of the red rock canyon.  Around the 5K point, the runners joined up on Route 91 -- an older freeway.  We had a good portion of the shoulder and traffic was still light.  I was enjoying the easy pace and the mostly downhill part of the race.  My pace was improving and I still felt in control.

Mile 6 or so was the first "test".  Here was a decent hill and it took a bit to get up and over.  It was nearly a half mile long.  I remained patient and conserved energy here.  I was still within my goal of a 2-hour half marathon thanks to having banked time.

The closer we got to civilization, the more traffic there was on the road.  It sort of lost its coziness and peacefulness.  Fortunately, unlike in 2020, there was a new bike trail put well off to the side of the road.  This made it a lot safer and I could focus on running versus wondering if a speeding car was going to take me out.  

The course support was really good -- and hydration stations were about every 2 - 3 miles.  For the temperatures of the day, it was perfect.  There were pockets of spectators -- mostly cheering on family members, but for the most part it was solo running.  Occasionally I'd get passed by a full marathoner, who had had a 90 minute head start but I was slowly picking off other half marathoners.  And my pace was quickening.

I wanted to start my pickup a bit sooner on this race and around mile 7 I was moving well.  I was aided by some downhills.  I had also consumed a Roctane GU and I think the jolt of sugar and caffeine perked me up.  There was a hill that made me slow down but overall, I was very pleased with my pace.

Mile 10 - So hard

I had visions of smashing the final 4 miles and it was also at this time I passed what I thought was a person in my age group.  I had hopes that I'd place in my age group, but having studied the results from the past few years I knew I had what I figured to be a 50-50 chance.  It all depended who showed up and if I got lucky.

I definitely remembered mile 10 through 11 from 2020.  It is where you leave the highway and you have about 5KM left to run.  That mile is where things are starting to hurt. I still felt really strong and plowed up the hill. I saw the 10KM turn around and did the math in my head and knew that this course should come in right at 13.1.

Visions of running 8:30 or so were playing in my head as I ran up this mile-long, gradual hill.  I dared to look at my watch and I was well over 9 minutes.  If there was a heartbreak hill to this race, this was it.  My heart rate was definitely spiking as I willed myself to run fast.

It was only discouraging me, though and I told myself to be patient.  I remembered that once I got to the top, it'd be flat and then a final fast mile.  Sure enough, upon the summit, I was back on the flat section and I could feel my confidence and pace quicken.  A solid 8:21 rang up on my watch.

I was running with the outbound 10KM runners.  It was nice to see them coming along and I was still reeling in a few other runners.  I knew I was on for a good time.

Home stretch -- finish line to my left

The final mile is through a well-to-do section and it is primarily downhill and fast.  I couldn't ask for a better mile.  I gave it all I had as I slalomed down the twisty drive. I hit my fastest mile of the race -- a but 8 minute.

I was cheered by a throng a well wishers as I closed in to the finish line.  A sharp turn and a short distance later, I had finished.

Final stretch

Crossing the finish line!


To say I was ecstatic would be an understatement.  I smashed this race -- running faster than the previous half marathon.  This course came in accurately and my final mile was the fastest of the race (okay it was downhill but still).

I still felt good too -- there wasn't any death march on this race and I could've put in another mile or two.

The moment of truth came though -- had I placed?  I wound up looking up the live results and I found myself 3rd in my age group.  Would it hold though?  Was there someone who started behind me who would beat me?  No.  I was really happy -- always nice to go home with an additional medal and a bit of bragging rights.

All Smiles after a successful race.

I managed to get some snacks in me: fruit, granola bars, sports drink and ice cream sandwiches.  There was a really good crowd at the end -- with a 5K, 10K, half marathon and full marathon, the race was well attended and there was a lot of excitement.

It didn't take long to hand out the awards and it was nice to socialize with runners.  The morning was absolutely beautiful.  Sunny, not a cloud in the sky and a comfortable 50-something degree weather.  I probably should've hung out a bit longer but once I got my award, I decided to head back to the hotel to get cleaned up.

Overall, I had an awesome time at this race.  Not only was my running a success -- my fitness for a half marathon *is* there, but the morning and course was absolutely beautiful.  I just felt so fortunate that I was able to experience the beauty of Southern Utah.  Also, I didn't kill myself running the race: my pace was controlled and at no point did I feel like the wheels were coming off.  What a difference it makes when you run a half marathon like that versus some of the final miles of my half marathons in 2023.

There's been a lot of improvements to race since 2020 -- namely the safer route that avoids some of the fast traffic along the 2-lane highway.  The race was also well supported with ample aid stations and bathrooms.

I kept asking myself why did I wait so long to run this race again?  Hopefully I'll remember this experience next year and make the journey back down to St George to run this race.

Upcoming Races

02/10: 2024 South Davis Recreation Center Sweethearts 5K - Bountiful, UT (Confirmed)
02/25: 2024 Las Vegas Half Marathon - Las Vegas, NV (Confirmed)
03/02: 2024 March Madness 10K - West Bountiful, UT (Confirmed)
03/30: 2024 Eggs Legs 10K - West Jordan, UT (Confirmed)
04/202024 Salt Lake City Half Marathon - Salt Lake City, UT (Confirmed)
04/27: 2024 Apple Blossom 10K - Santaquin, UT (Confirmed)
05/27: 2024 Run of Remembrance 10K - American Fork,  UT 
06/01: 2024 Utah Valley Half Marathon - Provo, UT (Confirmed)
07/242024 Deseret News Half Marathon - Salt Lake City, UT (Confirmed
08/17: 2024 PC2PG 10K - Lindon, UT (Confirmed)
09/07: 2024 Cedar City Half Marathon - Cedar City, UT (Confirmed)
09/28: 2024 Witch Run 10K - West Jordan, UT (Confirmed)
10/19: 2024 Haunted Half 5K - Salt Lake City, UT (Confirmed)
10/26: 2024 Haunted Half 5K - Provo, UT (Confirmed)

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